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The Ghost of Fitness Past

'The further you get from a point in your life, the easier it is to remember yourself as something exaggerated from what you actually were. That one time you did that one thing may have been tougher than you think it was. Having said that, there is no reason you shouldn’t try to be what you once were and do what you once could.' --

Ben Dawson

5:27. That's the fastest mile split that I have on record in my 5+ years of run data. I came across that split while constructing my monthly mileage chart about a month ago, and the idea of it is still stuck in my head. That mile came in 2009 -- a year that I ran two marathons over the course of six months. In my current state (twelve pounds heavier than 2009 and struggling to run 10 miles at a time) it's difficult to accept the reality I'm currently facing -- that I'm nowhere near as fit as I was a two and a half years ago (or even nine months ago).

For those of us whose collegiate athletics experience involved a ping pong table and the occasional keg stand pushup competition, our athletic peak likely happened in high school. Much like kleph, I ran respectable times in high school track but was neither a standout nor a distance runner (my bests were something like 2:05 in the 800 meters, 40.5 in the 300m hurdles). I can pretty easily accept the fact that I'll never run 800 meters under 2:30 or so ever again (I can also easily accept that I'll never drink like I did in college again). At this point in life I view these fitness indicators as neither attainable nor relevant to my interests.

What's far more bothersome are the more recent PRs -- the ones that happened while I've lived in DC. The runs whose routes I still run four or five times a week (EXAMPLE: the 10 mile route that I ran this past Sunday at 9:30 pace was covered one September evening in 2009 at 7:20 pace). These were runs that felt light when I ran them, without the heavy, feel-your-ass-reverberate-with-every-step movements that I'm dealing with now. What I miss are compression tights that didn't have a few rips in the Lycra from just a bit of over-stretching.

If I really wanted to abdicate myself of all responsibility for losing fitness since 2009, I could probably piece together a pretty substantial defense -- the final two years of graduate school aren't the most generous with free time, you see -- but doing so would just further enable the notion that, well, life sometimes gets in the way of running. But, life does get in the way. The question is how often that "sometimes" will happen, and what we're willing to sacrifice to get out there and do what we love.

Experience is key here; at its best, experience is manifested as the clarity to know what things are actually *worth* missing a run for. At its worst, experience tells us 'oh sure, you've done that before. You know what you're up against, so missing this run is no big thing'. Maybe it's better to say that experience is key, but as a guide and not as gospel.

Maybe we're scared shitless of the potential of the future on an unchanged path. Maybe we want to get in shape to look good for own selves -- or for someone we love. Maybe the reality of being 28 and having your blood pressure go from from 65/100 to 80/130 over the course of five months is enough to put the fear into you (it surely did for me). Maybe you run because it's the healthiest way that you can get your endorphin kick. Maybe you're running from addiction. Maybe you really, actually like every single run that you go out on (if this is true, you're lying to yourself, in need of medication, or simply the worst person ever).

We all have our reasons and our vices; underneath the superficial excuses and chaff lie our true intentions.
While I readily admit that I'll never get back in shape to run 800 meters in 2:06 (or more accurately I'll never train to specifically be in this shape), I'd love to get back to being able to run a 5:27 mile and or a 1:33 half marathon. I'm trying my hardest to use my former conditioning not as a ghost, but as a muse -- and in doing so not view a sub-5:30 mile as some Platonic ideal or an end-goal but rather a reminder of the things that I'm capable of when I focus my attention.

Rather than lamenting what used to be, I'm doing what I can do to take note of my previous self and remember where that drive came from. More likely than not it came slowly by rote, building over time, ingraining itself as habit until it was suddenly one day that thing that I did. What kills me -- the thing that haunts me the most -- is knowing that over time running slowly fell by the wayside and became that thing that I used to do. That's not going to be the case anymore.

Instead of worrying about what used to be (and what maybe could have been if I, you know, hadn't gotten lazy), my plan is to focus on doing the best I can right now. Because the funny thing about my best right now is that it's just a prelude to my best in six months. And soon enough, my best right now will be a hell of a lot better than my best a year ago. That's not so bad a place to end up.

If I focus on what will be, not what was.